The “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults” or “RCIA” is the parish-based process by which persons interested in the Catholic faith are invited to inquire about the Church, and if they so desire, join the worldwide Catholic community. RCIA provides the outline for this entire process as well as the ritual celebrations marking entry into the Catholic faith. Becoming a Christian and a Catholic is serious business, but because God is ultimately the one who calls a person to such a life-changing experience, all that is needed is an open heart to his word and trust in the journey he sets before you. Throughout the process of Christian initiation, usually lasting a year or longer, the entire Church promises to be there for those wishing to grow in their Christian faith. The Church stands by to patiently water and nourish and cultivate new seeds of faith, trusting in the Lord to provide a great harvest.
The First Step: Initial Conversion and Inquiry
The process begins as a person reaches a point of initial conversion. For some reason, a person is moved by an individual experience of faith. This call to conversion may take the form of some sign or word which reveals the presence of God working in his or her life. The process may take the form of instantaneous enlightenment, or linger over several years. Perhaps it is the ministry and example of a friend or spouse or in-law. Maybe you found solace in the liturgy or ministry of the Church at some important time in your life. Some might find an intellectual imperative to investigate the claims of the Church with regards to the Eucharist or the other sacraments. Perhaps it is a simple restlessness in your current faith life. Once in a while, people find that their present faith community seems to be ‘lacking’ when compared to the call of the Gospel. Maybe you hear an intimate word coming to you in prayer simply asking you to ‘follow’. Whatever the experience, God sends his invitation and opens our hearts in many unpredictable ways. The Church recognizes the importance of these first movements in the minds and hearts of people. Without cost or obligation, without commitment or expectation, your local Catholic parish (St. Anthony’s or any other parish near you) is willing to answer your questions and explain what it means to ‘be Catholic’.
People begin at this step, coming from all sorts of life experiences. Some might come to the Church, never having heard the Gospel of Christ or never having any kind of religious upbringing as a child. Others have gone through their whole life condemning Christianity or Catholicism, claiming to be agnostic or atheistic. Others might be married to a Catholic. Some come from other Christian communities where they might have been hearing the word of God and nurturing their faith for many years. Whatever your story, the Church has a place for you, and wants you to take the time to listen— really listen— to what God might be asking. If God has brought you to the point of asking questions, the Church wants to help you take the time to answer them well. After all, these questions and answers could radically change your life… forever.
Normally, at St. Anthony’s, people who are interested in asking questions about the Church or the possibility of becoming Catholic are simply encouraged to call the parish office to talk to Fr. Tom Donovan, the pastor. He is happy to sit with you and discuss your thoughts, look at the movement of the Spirit in your life, and help you come up with a plan to investigate your faith more deeply. To make an appointment, call the parish office at (217) 222-5996.
When the parish gathers on Sunday (or Saturday night), inquirers are welcomed to join us for the Liturgy of the Word at Mass. After hearing the word proclaimed and preached, these inquirers are taken to a private room by a leader from the community where they may discuss and share the scriptures, meanwhile, the rest of the community celebrates the Eucharist. On another night of the week, a group of parishioners leads prayer and discussion on topics of interest for those thinking of becoming Catholic. As time goes on, inquirers are able to judge if they are ready or would like to come closer to the Church and join the “Order of Catechumens”. A Catechumen is one who is actively seeking the prayer and support of the community as they begin the journey to come into full communion with the Catholic Community.
The Second Step: Learning the Faith as “Catechumens”
From the earliest days of the Church, Catechumens have held a place of honor and concern for the local faith community. This is because, in many ways, the people engaged in the Catechumenate remind the entire parish community of the need to be engaged in continual conversion and growth in the faith. Catechumens continue to gather for instruction and faith-sharing meetings to discuss the faith and the movement of God in their lives. Along the way they are encouraged to question their experiences with the Church and examine their response to God’s call. Hopefully each day finds the Catechumen growing in faith and finding God’s call in his or her live.
The Third Step: Immediate Preparation as “Candidates” and the “Elect”
At the beginning of the season of Lent, the six week period of preparation which the entire Church makes before the celebration of the Easter, Catechumens are invited to publicly announce their intention to continue preparations leading to full initiation in the Catholic faith. At this time, previously-unbaptized persons are ’elected’ or ‘chosen’ by the bishop to receive Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist at Easter. Baptized persons coming from other faith traditions or Catholics who did not complete their initiation with confirmation and/or Eucharist are chosen as ‘candidates’ for these sacraments. At the Easter Vigil, the primary celebration of the entire Church year, the candidates and the elect are gathered to the heart of the Church, where they are welcomed to enter the covenant of Christ’s redeeming grace as they are baptized and/or confirmed and participate in the Eucharist for the first time.
The Fourth Step: Mystagogy and new life.
On the “Third Day” Christ rose from the dead to conquer sin and death once and for all. Through this Paschal Mystery, he leads his people, as did Moses, through the Red Sea, out of slavery and into the Promised Land. Each day after that day of resurrection and redemption is to be lived out ever more deeply as a son or daughter of God. For the several weeks following the Easter Sacraments, as the excitement of the vigil night transitions into the day-to-day reality of living in Christ, newly-initiated Catholics are invited to come back and share their experiences and celebrate their new-found faith community. They are invited to participate in the ministry and the outreach of the wider parish community. With the entire community of faith, they share the Good News and share in the Eucharist each week (or even daily, if they desire). Life in Christ as a new Catholic has changed, not ended. They are encouraged to continue to listen for God acting in their lives and to engage themselves in continuing, life-long conversion to the message of God in the world.
“If today you hear his voice…”
There are, of course, ways to become Catholic outside of this typical calendar cycle, and finding yourself in this situation is no reason to put off the movement of the Spirit in your life. We welcome inquiries at all times of the year. For more information and to discuss your interest and desires, please call the parish office.
Join the Team!
St. Anthony’s has a team of parishioners who are involved in evangelizing to the world and inviting others to become Catholic. Parishioners are invited to consider being sponsors for those seeking the sacraments or to be a presented for the weekly scripture or teaching classes. All are encouraged to pray for our catechumens and to engage themselves in the same call to continuing conversion. Also If you know anyone who might like to go through this process, please ask them! God just might be working through you and your faith to minister the message of salvation to the world, one person at a time.
For more information about becoming Catholic, the process of Christian Initiation, or to join the RCIA team, please contact the parish office at (217) 222-5996, or you may contact the parish director of RCIA, Bonnie Nytes by e-mail at DRE@stanthonypadua.org or contact Fr. Tom Donovan the pastor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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